Saturday, January 07, 2012

SOPA (is) for Dummies

Unless you've been hiding under the internet equivalent of a rock recently, you've likely heard mention of the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) which is currently working its way through the House of Representatives in the US.

With highly vocal support (and almost $100 million in official lobbying efforts) from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the US Chamber of Commerce, SOPA also has the support of more than 400 organisations as it seeks to block 'rogue websites' who, according to the US Chamber of Commerce "steal America's innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs".

The trouble is, SOPA isn't so much a sledgehammer to crack a nut as it is a high-yield thermonuclear warhead...

There are numerous reasons why SOPA is bad news for the internet, especially for people living in the US; from the potential invasions of privacy (for example, ISPs may be required to use deep packet inspection on web users to prevent access to specific sections of websites), to problems of security (that has seen the head of the Homeland Security subcommittee on cyber security state SOPA will undercut cyber security measures), to the simple fact that, if passed, SOPA will act to cripple the nature of the internet.

But I really wanted to take a moment to puncture one of the key arguments that supporters of SOPA rely upon - namely the massive losses that are incurred by the various entertainment companies by activities such as file-sharing and streaming.

Despite apocalyptic claims, the fact is that US movie revenues in 2012 - even allowing for the state of decline in the world economy - were the third highest of all-time and over $10 billion for the third year in a row:

Supporters of SOPA like to argue that every person who downloads or streams a film or TV show or album are people who would, otherwise, have gone out and bought a legitimate copy of that film, TV show or album - and they calculate their vast billions of dollars in losses from this poorly thought out logic. The truth is, people frequently download media that they would not have paid to consume - only the tiniest fraction of those people downloading or streaming media are really potential customers being lost.

On top of that, quite aside from the way in which the supporters are spinning the statistics, it seems that no one in the MPAA or the RIAA want to discuss the way in which file-sharing and streaming can actually boost their profits.

By sampling media in this fashion, people are able to make decisions about the products they wish to purchase. I was recently informed that I had been seriously missing out by not having watched Big Bang Theory and, so, decided to check out the first season by streaming it; I liked it so much that I went out and bought the first four seasons boxset. Now Warner Brothers would argue illegal streaming of the first season has lost them £4.99 - but, in actual fact, it persuaded me to spend £28.97.

It just strikes me that the MPAA and the RIAA are trying to live in a world that hasn't moved on, a world where frequent consumption of digital media isn't the norm and where people are only interested in physical copies of their media. The world has changed and the entertainment companies - instead of trying to shackle the internet to preserve their established business models - should be trying to move with it.

For example, I can't believe that it is not possible in this day and age for us to be able to watch TV shows, officially streamed with adverts, from entertainment company websites. I know that if this service was available, I would be using it all the time. The way to 'kill' rogue websites isn't to detonate a nuclear warhead on the people who the entertainment industry depends upon for its revenues, instead it is to adapt and evolve and provide us with better alternatives that suit the way we want to consume media. Anything else is simply doomed to fail.


Elsa Garcia said...

It is just very funny for me to read SOPA, 'cause in Portuguese it means Soup. Just wanted to share :)

Oliver Davies said...

Well Elsa, it is certainly an unpalatable dish that is being served up by the US!!